Today I write my game preview like a proud parent sending his kids off to college. After four seasons at VCU (and five years for both Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess following NCAA eligibility issues), this will hopefully be the last Siegel Center home game for five VCU seniors. I say hopefully of course because I think we can all agree we’d rather see these guys off to the NCAA tournament instead of hosting an NIT game. Am I correct in that assumption? That’s my preference at least. Mo, Jordan, JeQuan Lewis, Doug Brooks and Torey Burston will likely play their last Siegel Center home game today and that fact should produce some waterworks in the stands. Hopefully that’ll be the only waterworks however, as the Rams will look to avoid what would be a heart-breaking home loss to a tricky George Mason team looking to play NCAA tournament spoiler.
VCU (23-7, 13-4)
GEORGE MASON (19-11, 9-8)
A QUICK LOOK AT GEORGE MASON
After spending their first three seasons in the depths of the A-10 cellar, Dave Paulsen appears to have the George Mason Patriots back. Even with a loss today, Mason would avoid a losing A-10 record for the first time since joining the conference three seasons ago. That’s one heck of an improvement for a team that has yet to escape the A-10 tourney “Weak Wednesday” round that pits the conference’s bottom-four teams against each other. Paulsen’s Pats jumped out to a nice 10-3 non-conference start and outside of two weird losses to Saint Louis, have been a dangerous A-10 team. Mason owns a season sweep of Richmond, blasted La Salle, won at Davidson and pushed Rhode Island to their limits four games ago. After an 8-5 conference start that saw GMU creep into the league’s top-four, they have hit a bit of a rough patch however. Mason dropped that tough one to Rhody, then had to hit the road for what would eventually be two losses to Dayton and GW, then narrowly escaped Duquesne at home, 63-62. But make no mistake, this is a team that has been competitive all season long and is a legit threat to derail VCU’s season today. The Pats climb toward A-10 respectability has come mostly behind an offense that has hit 37% of their threes in conference play. Paulsen has rolled out a guard-dominated lineup this season that has been deadly from distance in the A-10 and despite their limited size, uses a system that cleans up on the glass, led by 6’2 senior Marquise Moore, the only A-10 player currently averaging a double-double (17.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg). Defensively Mason slows you down and Ds the three very well but could not find enough interior D to stop VCU in the last matchup between these two, seeing VCU finish 57.8% of their 45 twos while getting to the stripe for 20 freebies, 12 of which they would make. Mason is incredibly young and rarely goes to their bench, employing guards Moore and sophomore Otis Livingston to handle much of the scoring load with somewhat undersized big Jalen Jenkins patrolling the paint. Sophomore wing Jaire Grayer is a bit of an x-factor for the green and gold, hitting 46% of his threes in A-10 play to lead the conference in long-range accuracy. Guard him.
A QUICK LOOK AT VCU
After winning nine consecutive games the black and gold hit a pretty predictable rough patch in two road contests at Dayton and Rhode Island. The Rams were the underdogs in both games against the A-10’s preseason No.1 and 2 and despite keep the games close late (both were much closer than the final scores suggest), couldn’t come up with enough big plays to pull out either road win. By big plays we of course mean a few threes here or there. VCU hit a combined three three-pointers in the two losses and have hit a total of six over their last three games for an abysmal three-game three-point percentage of 12.8% (6-47). VCU hit 7-of-14 threes in the game before that stretch, defeating Richmond on the road and have hit at least 35% of their threes in half of their 30 contests this season. Again, the Rams were absolutely miserable from distance and nearly beat two good teams. A regression to the mean for a mediocre 33-35% three-point percentage would make this VCU team a tough matchup for Mason today or any conference opponent that gets in the Rams way in Pittsburgh. One thing that might help with that is the potential return of freshman De’Riante Jenkins. Jenkins hit 44.4% of his threes to start the season but missed most of conference play with a broken foot. He made a brief appearance in the Rams loss at Dayton, making a coast-to-coast basket to reduce Dayton’s lead to seven heading into the half. The highly-rated recruit could see more minutes today in a lead-up to next week’s A-10 tournament and getting him back in his pre-injury three-point groove could be a huge lift for this team.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Scoring Offense: GMU 75.3, VCU 74.9
Scoring Defense: VCU 66.4, GMU 71.1
Effective Field Goal% Offense: VCU 51.8%, GMU 50.2%
Effective Field Goal% Defense: VCU 47.2%, GMU 48.5%
3-Point Field Goal%: GMU 35.3%, VCU 33.6%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: GMU 32.7%, VCU 33.8%
2-Point Field Goal%: VCU 52.3%, GMU 49.2%
2-Point Field Goal% Defense: VCU 45.6%, GMU 48.3%
Rebounds per game: GMU 40.3, VCU 36.1
Turnover% Offense: GMU 18.5%, VCU 18.7%
Turnover% Defense: VCU 21.5%, GMU 14.5%
VCU WINS IF
It worked last time so I’m rolling with it again: smart shots and good defense. VCU played to their strength in the last matchup between these two, taking 45 twos to just 13 threes. They finished 57.8% of those twos, almost half of which came from JeQuan Lewis and Johnny Williams. Hitting the high-percentage buckets and dominating the boards helped VCU survive a 21-turnover night in the nine-point win. The Rams must also defend the three. Mason has been held below 70 points just seven times this season. They are 2-5 when held below 60 and were also held under 60 during regulation in a double-overtime loss to Saint Louis and were held to under 30% from three in five of those seven games. If you can slow Mason down from deep you greatly increase your chances of beating them.
GEORGE MASON WINS IF
The three-ball is the great equalizer and strange things can happen when that is falling, like VCU going on a historic Final 4 run in 2011 or potentially like Mason ruining senior day today. It’s imperative the Rams shut Mason down from deep while also avoiding a dribble penetration night like the one we saw against Saint Joseph’s. Mason has a high-rebound producing system, meaning you’ve gotta be efficient on offense. If you aren’t and the Pats are hitting threes…nighty night.
Kenpom: 78-68 VCU win with an 83% chance of a Rams victory.
Game tips at 2PM at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, VA
Watch: MASN, Official game day headquarters are Buffalo Wild Wings locations at Virginia Center and downtown on Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom.
Listen: Fox Sports 910 AM & 98.5 FM
Live Tweets: @VCURamNation